Why are game developers only now considering player comfort?

During and since E3 I’ve read and watched a bunch of previews for VR titles, often done with the developers of those titles. One of the best trends I’m seeing is that VR developers worry a lot about player comfort. They really don’t want their customers getting sick while playing their games/experiences. This is obviously good news for potential consumers and good business sense on the part of the developers.

But why did it take VR to get developers thinking about this? There are plenty of people who struggle with “motion sickness” in non-VR games but most developers don’t seem to think about them very much, at least based on my experience as one of the sufferers. I’ve actually written about motion sickness at least twice (here and here) and the constant struggle between my love of gaming and my dislike of having headaches and nausea.

Over the past few years I’ve been kind of self-evaluating myself and motion sickness. I found some things I could do to help fight it: play in a well lit room, get enough rest, and work on acclimating myself to a game. But more and more I’ve been noticing what causes it and it’s all to do with camera control.

I recently downloaded the demo for the new DOOM. I’d heard that it was super fast so I assumed it would make me sick, but it didn’t. Speed of movement doesn’t seem to factor into my motion sickness.

Conversely I’ve been playing through last year’s Mad Max this week. The game is broken down into two basic parts, driving bits and on-foot bits. I can play the driving bits all night long comfortably, and if I get out of the car and fight in the open, I’m good there too. But as soon as I go into a building I start getting sick. This really illustrated what causes my motion sickness.

The problem boils down to games where I have to fight the camera. In DOOM there’s no head-bob and the camera (at least in the time I played) never moved itself on me. So it was completely comfortable. In Mad Max when you’re in buildings in narrow hallways, the game is constantly taking control of the camera and adjusting things. Since I also am moving the camera, this causes discomfort.

I finally came up with a real-life analogy that maybe some of you can related to. Have you ever been sitting in your car at a stop light and the car in the lane next to you starts to move, and for a split second you think YOUR car is moving and you micro-panic and your stomach gives a lurch since your eyes are saying your car is moving but your body isn’t feeling it? (Hopefully this isn’t just me!) Well that’s the same kind of situation.

I’ve been playing this game and moving the camera. My brain, eyes and thumb are on the same page and everything is good. Then the game decides it doesn’t like where the camera is and moves it (and it doesn’t have to move it much to cause issues). My brain gets confused. It didn’t tell my thumb to do anything but the eyes are saying things are moving. And the headaches and nausea begin.

Now if a game doesn’t ask me to control the camera at all, I have no problems. But when a game asks me to take control of the camera, please let me control the camera and don’t correct things on me. If I can’t see something, that’s on me…I’ll move the camera until I can. Don’t “fix” the view for me.

I hate when game players say adding a feature would be simple because we don’t know, but it seems like offering an option to turn off “Automatic camera adjustment” shouldn’t be that hard and it would make a lot of games so much more comfortable for people like me who suffer from this style of motion sickness.